Some of the cast and crew of August Wilson‘s Seven Guitars.
The Cast and Crew of The Lower Bottom Playaz are unlikely magicians. Some have day jobs, some are students, others are teachers and entrepreneurs; we are all entertainers. Some of us are new to the game, others were hooked long ago, some of us are just showing off at this point. Together we are magic.
I have written before about the magic of theater where in all works out in the end. Some how, all things come together and we rise to the occasion. It becomes a pattern. Work. Work. Panic. Work. Panic.WORK. PANIC. PANIC. Work. Magic!! Magic like theater is a craft. All crafts have many dimensions. The theater Gods are generous; you are allowed to take as much of the magic as you can carry.
When you view theater you are encouraged to slip into the story. You willing suspend belief along with paying the price of admission. You come to hear the story. You walk into the dark and into another world. Good theater transports you; it can be cathartic. We often turn to art for that very effect. In theaters we are free to cry our own tears for someone ele’s grief. In the dark we are free to feel, to be wounded by art, to be moved to understanding. Theater holds all that for audience members and actors alike.
We do urban theater. We have for over a decade. Sometimes actors who start productions do not finish. Life happens and it is so much larger than the fictions we breathe air into. People get sick, their loved ones have issues, they have domestic problems, they lack the funds to be present, they have legal problems, and some times they are afraid of their own success. So they opt out because they can’t handel life and the story of it at the same time. It takes all they have to be in their real realties.
And then there are actors. Real actors. The kind who know that in real theater the show goes on. Theater imulates life. It does not stop. The curtain goes up like the sun rises, in a real theater, just like in the real world. We are a real theater and in twelve years we have never gone dark. This is as extraordinary when one knows the drama behind the scenes often threatens to eclipse what is intended for the stage. But we show up. The show becomes the real reality that we understand, the reality which we have some control over. Unlike real life which sometimes hurts so bad one needs a place to hide and often defies “control”. Actors sometimes hide on stage in plain sight in the middle of some one else’s life. This too can be cathartic. The allusion of control allows us the ability to “cry our own tears for someone eles’s grief.” In this way actors are magicians able to turn sorrow into light to better illuminate the practice of living for themselves and others.
Theater offers you a chance to solve a character’s problem, enjoy his destiny, fight along side him against his fate — stride with him to his destiny. Theater gives a performer a place to spend the emotional currency stored in their well of lived experiences, it gives you a place to go when it is necessary to vacate your own reality temporarily for the sake of being able to carry it when you are forced to return to it. I have used theater as a refuge on a number of occasions. I ran to it when one of my sons was critically injured and nearly died, and when another was shot. I stood in the light of its comfort while embroiled in a prolonged war of the flea with the police department in a city in which I once resided. I sought its expanse when I was smothered in the confines of government housing. Theater has been my rock. I create therefore I am. It is reminiscent of life but with much more civilized rules. Most North American Africans are skilled at making a way out of no way. As a performer it is stock and trade.
The production of theater in the hood is a procession of miracles. Healthy productions spring from anemic budgets. Costumes and props are manifest from will; you need it and it appears. Hopefully its cheap. Sets come together out of dreams, the logic of functionality, and what you have on hand to build with. I print scripts on my Epson at home. Advertising is a barter, calling of favors, and word of mouth affair. And because creating is like breathing to us the Gods of such things bless us. We are the work and the work is us. It is difficult at times but that is how life/art is — things that you work hard for tend to be the most worthwhile. We work hard at the production of theater. We encourage miracles.
The production of Seven Guitars puts The Lower Bottom Playaz at the halfway mark in their march through The Century Cycle by August Wilson. The troupe has weathered a lot since it undertook the production of the entire series. We have lost friends. We have made new friends. Some people have opted out. Others have become addicted to creating. We have had sorrows, bad times, and some good times too. Babies have been born. Art has been made. Projects have been conceived and executed. Degrees have been completed. We are sharper than ever, our dedication has deepen, and we have become more tightly focused. We are learning from Wilson as we hone our craft as actors and magicians. We are learning that our stories are nourishment. We have learned that most of what we experience has happened before to other people and their stories stand to inform us of how we might emerge out the other side and that our own stories give us a sublime understanding of life if we allow them into our art. We are learning to appreciate the salt and sugar of life as it continues forward one day after another.
In this sense we resemble the characters in Wilson’s Seven Guitars. We are perfecting the ability to see and elevate the gloriousness of the mundane. We see the hunger in Floyd Schoolboy Barton and we are reminded of our own. We understand Louise’s caution having been burned by love. Yet we are with Vera when she risk all perhaps foolishly in the belief that her love can unpack her man’s trunk. We agonize with Canewell over his love from a distance as it walks out of his life. We hold their lives up next to our own and feel reaffirmed in our realness, comforted by our not so far from normal angst, and we understand our fierce human beauty in our imperfect perfection.
Seven Guitars opens June 28th in West Oakland CA.